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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 69


Dr JENSEN (6:56 PM) —We have been given tantalising excerpts in the last week of a new term paper, or maybe we should call it a magnum opus, by the Prime Minister and company, laying out in his usual clear and self-effacing style what is wrong with the global economy and how he can fix it, with apologies to Bob the Builder. It also has great green credentials, basically being a recycling of the old, tired class war anticapitalism rhetoric of his ‘Brutopia’ article of 2006 and containing the usual equal parts: vanity and venom. Even though I have seen only part of this latest article, it fits perfectly with a man we have grown to know over the last couple of years. This article should be read in conjunction with his earlier epistle.

Rewind a couple of years to the then opposition leader’s opinion piece lashing John Howard for ‘unrestrained market capitalism’. He did this by outlining a totally laissez-faire economic picture and by saying that this was the Howard government’s modus operandi. I suspect that may be because he thought that was all that John Howard and Peter Costello had done for 10 years: sat back with their feet on the desk watching the taxpayers’ dollars roll in—a bit like a kid watching dad driving and thinking that all you had to do was turn the steering wheel occasionally. How envious that must have made him. Howard and Costello had it so easy! One could tell how that hurt by the plethora of pejoratives in the article, which took the place of factual arguments.

Apparently, it is free market fundamentalism of Howard, Bush and Thatcher and other targets of the left-wing hate which has caused this current crisis—in other words, the usual suspects. This is a manifestly ridiculous view. It was the policies of Reagan, Bush, Thatcher, Howard and Costello which created their wealth. It was the social capitalism of the Democrats in the US which laid the foundations of the current crisis. Let us take industrial relations. The coalition somehow deregulated it by centralising it. Interesting. I can still remember the first decision made by the Fair Pay Commissioner. The utter dismay on the faces of those opposite was comical to behold. They and the ACTU bosses had been working themselves into a frenzy of faux concern and then, dammit, the then Prime Minister did exactly what he had promised: he delivered a fair outcome for workers. What really hurt Labor was that this outcome was achieved without workers having to pay union fees, go on strike or suffer any of the downsides of the old, outdated adversarial IR system so beloved of the ACTU and militants. How unfair that a coalition government had delivered economic sanity and social justice.

I return to the Prime Minister’s catalogue of coalition calumny. We should remember that it is never enough for Labor to win elections. They must traduce the coalition’s track records, demonise its leaders and demolish the structures put in place for a successful country. The Prime Minister still likes to portray anyone to his right as robber barons who still send children down coalmines. He actually had the gall to do a critique of the Howard government, saying that it did not fit with the philosophy of Menzies. Let us compare and contrast records.

Howard was a Christian who never attacked Christians who voted Labor. Meanwhile, Howard-supporting Christians were automatically ‘fundamentalists’. Very Christian of you, Prime Minister! Howard gave workers the power to think and decide for themselves what was best for them and their families, instead of being told what was best for them by union bosses. Labor and the AEU have always attacked the coalition’s funding of non-government schools. All John Howard did was give parents choice without an unfair financial burden, especially as many of these families were ordinary ‘working families’. The coalition philosophy was to provide the environment in which people could fulfil their ambitions. You can do that in a sensibly regulated market economy with hard work and ingenuity or by taking financial risks which pay dividends later. Under socialism, the only way up is by cronyism or slavish obedience to dogma. The Howard government was supportive of workers gaining more skills to take advantage of the low unemployment levels, hence the policy of increasing the number of TAFE colleges. This was in contrast with the elitist middle-class Left, who were obsessed with school retention rates and university places mainly because they tacitly looked down on anyone without a degree.

So was the Howard government so at odds with Menzies? In Menzies House in Perth there is a photograph of Sir Robert, and underneath are written the essential freedoms as he saw them: the freedom to worship—presumably without attracting the epithet ‘fundamentalist’—the freedom to think, the freedom to speak, the freedom to choose, the freedom to be ambitious and industrious and the freedom to be independent and acquire skills. Clearly, despite the desperate attempt at revisionism, John Howard and his government were worthy successors to Menzies.

The Prime Minister seems to have an unhealthy obsession with this imaginary completely ‘unrestrained market capitalism’. One wonders what so many governments spent their energies on if they had nothing to regulate. The free market ‘brutopia’ the Prime Minister wrote about is as real as the Walt Disney original he uses as his economic touchstone. This alleged support of free market fundamentalism by the coalition is merely a chimera used by Labor to show how much more caring and compassionate they are than their flint-hearted opponents.

Of course, if one totally suspends disbelief and assumes that the Prime Minister actually believes this potential and perfect political Xanadu of social capitalism, we must surely be able to see this philosophy writ large in current social capitalist economies such as those of most of the Australian Labor state governments. Clearly, unless they too are governed by the dastardly free marketeers or, alternatively, by the most incompetent governments imaginable, the people of Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia are living in an Eden of equality, well served by, to quote the PM, ‘public goods such as education and health’. Under social capitalism in those states, no doubt public transport is of such high quality that cars are a most undesirable alternative. There can surely be no hospital waiting lists, and schools are surpassing the benchmarks for the literacy and numeracy skills of their fortunate students. I am sure the residents of those states wish to thank the Prime Minister’s state Labor social capitalists for transporting them to such a socially and economically equitable nirvana. The truth of course is quite the reverse. While the nasty capitalists were screwing the country so badly that billions of dollars flowed into the treasuries of those states, which were then topped up by the GST, the social capitalist governments still managed to waste this bonanza, with little benefit to taxpayers.

The GST is the best illustration of the total disingenuousness of the Prime Minister’s claim about the economic reality of the Howard years. For decades, the Left had been complaining about how rich people avoided income and company tax while the workers were left to shoulder this burden. To a certain extent they were correct. The crazy-paving system of taxation made it easier for those with the wherewithal and inclination to pay less than their fair share. That is why a consumption tax was an article of faith for many on the Left, a sure way to plug the avoidance loopholes. If you spent your ill-gotten capitalist gains, at least you would pay tax. I seem to remember the Hawke Labor government having a tax summit in 1984. I guess it was a sort of 2020 Summit for economists. Paul Keating suggested a consumption tax would be part of tax reform and that he would forgo it ‘over his dead body’. Sadly for the country, Bob Hawke did not trust the Australian people enough to make such a bold reform. Howard and Costello did. Even former Labor Minister for Finance Peter Walsh acknowledged that a GST, as with the gun restriction laws the Howard government introduced after Port Arthur, was a longstanding shibboleth of the Left. Australians can judge different governments not by their words but by their deeds.

The coalition government, unlike the flint-hearted, unrestrained free marketeers cartoonishly depicted by the Prime Minister, understood that the best way to help someone is to give them an opportunity to work, to earn their own money and to have self-respect. It believed that the cruellest policy is to deny someone the right to work, to reduce a person to being merely a welfare recipient. Thus coalition policy was to ensure that everyone who wanted a job would have one. And, as the Demtel man said, ‘Wait, there’s more.’ To be fair to the taxpayers of this country, the coalition also put policies in place to ensure that even those who had not wanted to work should now have to pay their own way, with the Welfare to Work program. Thus everyone would be doing their fair share. That also freed up badly needed funding for those who did need assistance.

As John Howard outlined in his response to the then opposition leader’s criticism in 2006, the coalition worked with both the private sector and community groups in tackling issues such as youth homelessness, early childhood education and drug abuse. That is hardly indicative of a total preoccupation with unrestrained market capitalism.

Many groups in my electorate of Tangney benefited from excellent coalition government programs such as the Volunteer Small Equipment Grants. Local schools welcomed the funding made available by the coalition government under the Investing in Our Schools Program, which was only necessary because of the lamentable shortfalls in funding from the caring and sharing socially responsible state Labor governments.

According to the Prime Minister, in his ‘Brutopia’ jeremiad, this callous coalition government was only successful because of a calculated campaign of conscious exacerbation of fear, anxiety and uncertainty. That is especially specious given the ACTU’s long and inglorious track record of just that. The campaign on so-called workers’ rights which ran for a year before the 2007 federal election at first featured real-life examples of supposedly exploited workers. When the few real-life examples of this treatment quickly ran out, actors were used to engender a feeling of fear in the community. This can be traced back to at least 1996, when there was evidence of the use of ‘fear and loathing’ campaigns against John Howard, which was a specific Labor-ACTU election campaign strategy. As Chris White, then Assistant Secretary of the South Australian trades hall, wrote in a letter dated 15 November 1995:

If we are to run with a ‘fear and loathing’ campaign on individual contracts then we must define the scope of the message very clearly and stick to it.

They did and, 12 long years later, it finally succeeded.  The only reason that capitalist economies have failed to deliver in recent years is that left-wing governments got their hands on them—WA Inc., the Bank of South Australia and the Victorian version of WA Inc. They were all under Labor governments in the 1980s.

The worst example, and one of the reasons for the current economic crisis, is the failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the United States because of the so-called subprime lending regime. This came about because social engineers thought it unfair that people with limited financial resources should be denied the right to have their own home. So, instead of providing public housing with a buyback arrangement so that lower paid Americans could ultimately own their own homes, they allowed banks to lend to people who had no hope of repaying their mortgages. They were certainly helped in this economically irresponsible exercise by some in the banking industry who were unscrupulous enough to go along with this idea knowing full well that, sooner or later, the whole house of cards would come tumbling down. This can be described as socialised banking. In essence, the banks were told to forgo their previous practices of lending only to those who should have the ability to repay loans and instead lend money to those people clearly unable to repay loans—that is, subprime lending. This is not unfettered capitalism but fraud, under the sanctimonious guise of helping the poor and disadvantaged, with an unhealthy dose of the politics of envy thrown in for good measure. The Community Reinvestment Act was a centrepiece of this sort of twisted social capitalism.

Returning to Australia, who is the evildoer who Mr Rudd accuses of deregulating our financial system? Of course, the man who gives himself all the credit for deregulating the Australian banking system is Paul Keating. Will the Prime Minister attack him, as he has done John Howard, or is he too afraid of Mr Keating’s infamous tongue?

So we see that, far from being the panacea of the world’s economic ills, what the Prime Minister suggests was part of the cause of those ills. Apparently, the Prime Minister’s article does not actually provide any specific measure to fix the mess caused by socialised banking in the US. This is because the very philosophy he is championing could cause the same problems here. Why don’t we currently have those same problems here? If you believe the Prime Minister, we suffer from a lack of financial regulation: ‘unrestrained market capitalism’. But how can that be? While the Prime Minister was penning his DIY economic nostrum, his deputy was at the World Economic Forum. She had faithfully taken the Prime Minister’s very own hubris-laden brand of know-it-all-ism to the world’s economic leaders. In direct contradiction of the disingenuous claims about the lack of regulation made by the Prime Minister, she said she believed that other countries could learn from Australia’s regulations—which she described as being among the best in the world—which had stopped the country experiencing the kinds of problems in its housing market that had been seen in the US. In one refreshing piece of honesty the Deputy Prime Minister had blown the Prime Minister’s assertions about the Howard and Costello economic legacy clean out of the water.

It is interesting to note how many millionaires there are on that side of the House—not that we on this side do not support the ability of people to increase their wealth, because we always have. But how supremely hypocritical of those opposite who are wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, compared to most of their constituents, to condemn the very system which permitted them to become millionaires. This is a real Michael Moore moment. And for the Prime Minister to attack the Howard government’s record is so breathtaking in its historical revisionism that it would make an old-fashioned unreconstructed Stalinist blanch.

The Prime Minister’s conversion from a hater of free markets in 2006 to ‘economic conservative’ when he was in election mode, reverting to ‘social capitalist’ in 2009 is breathtaking in its intellectual turpitude. Being a ‘social capitalist’ makes as much sense as being a Christian atheist or a meat-eating vegetarian.

I challenge the Prime Minister to turn soothing words of caring and compassion into reality. Send a representative over to WA and negotiate a way with the Disabled Workers Union to reclaim the funding that was provided under the coalition to enable it to continue helping the most disadvantaged and vulnerable Australians in our society. And, while you are at it, provide some funding for Dr George O’Neil, so that he can continue to provide the successful and life-saving services in his naltrexone clinic and counselling program.

Perhaps I can finish with a few well-chosen words on the subject of socialism. Sir Winston Churchill said:

Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.

The last word should go to former British Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, who observed about Labour, when she addressed the Conservative Party’s convention in October 1975:

They have the usual socialist disease; they have run out of other people’s money.